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Authors: Bonnie Bryant

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BOOK: Riding Lesson
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“S
O WHAT

S YOUR
bright idea?” Lisa asked a few minutes later. She and Stevie were seated in a booth at TD’s waiting for their ice cream to arrive.

“Wait,” Stevie said mysteriously. “I told you, I need food for thought.”

Luckily the place wasn’t very crowded, and their sundaes arrived a moment later. As soon as Stevie had swallowed a few bites of caramel topping on strawberry ice cream, she was ready to talk.

“What I figure is, Carole is sick and tired of everybody being so nice to Marie,” she told Lisa.

“We already know that,” Lisa said with a shrug.

“Just listen. What we have to do is figure out some way to make Carole really want to be nice to Marie herself.”

“Mmm-hmm,” said Lisa, taking another bite of her hot-fudge sundae. “But how do we do that?”

“It’s simple,” Stevie stated matter-of-factly. “We have to get Carole to save Marie’s life.”

Lisa almost choked on her ice cream. “Excuse me?”

“You know, put her in some deadly peril,” Stevie explained. “Don’t you watch TV or go to the movies?”

“Yes,” Lisa replied. “But—”

Stevie was too caught up in the scheme that was forming in her mind to hear Lisa out. “What if Marie was about to be trampled by a runaway horse and Carole was the only one who could save her?” she went on.

“Have you lost your mind?” Lisa asked in disbelief. “Do you want to help Marie, or kill her?”

“Well, maybe the horse thing would be a little too risky,” Stevie admitted. “But if we could set it up so Carole
thinks
Marie is in danger, even if she isn’t really, then she’d have to look past her own petty jealousy and save her life. And that would make her see how much she really cares about Marie, and then she’d be sure to forget about all that rivalry stuff for the rest of Marie’s visit. It’s just like the way I was when Alex was sick.”

Stevie’s twin brother, Alex, had recently had a serious case of meningitis. Even though the twins fought like cats and dogs most of the time, Alex’s illness had reminded both of them how much they really cared about one another.
Stevie was sure the same kind of thing would work for Carole and Marie.

Lisa was shaking her head. “I don’t know, Stevie—” she began.

Stevie cut her off again. “I’ve got it!” she exclaimed, dropping her spoon and waving her hands wildly. “Beriberi!”

“What?” Lisa stared at her friend, certain now that Stevie had lost her mind.

“Beriberi,” Stevie repeated. “It’s a terrible disease.” Actually, Stevie didn’t know any more about beriberi than that, but she thought it sounded very dramatic. “Let’s say Carole just happens to find out that Marie has a fatal case of beriberi, and the only thing that can save her is, hmm, well …” Her voice trailed off as she tried to think of something.

“A kidney transplant, maybe?” Lisa suggested sarcastically. “And Carole happens to be the only one with the right blood type?”

“I don’t think that will work,” Stevie said, not noticing the sarcasm. “It’s a little too complicated.” Her face brightened again. “I know, we could tell Carole that Marie has to have another operation. It could be something left over from her accident.”

“Stevie,” Lisa said.

“Or how about this,” Stevie went on excitedly. “She could find out she’s going to be moving away from Willow
Creek as soon as her mother gets back. We could tell Carole that the real reason Mrs. Dana is in Europe is to look for their new home in Siberia. What do you think?”

“Stevie!” Lisa repeated. “Siberia is in Asia!”

“Whatever. But it still won’t work,” Stevie answered herself. “Carole would probably be overjoyed to think that Marie was moving far away. It has to be something scarier, like maybe finding out Marie is actually the daughter of a crazed ax murderer—no, a vampire! And he’s on his way to claim her as his next victim, and only Carole can stop him.…”

By this time Lisa was completely exasperated. “Stevie!” she shouted. “Have you completely lost your mind?”

“What?” Stevie asked, startled out of her plotting. She looked at Lisa. “What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong is that your plan is crazy,” Lisa said in a quieter voice. “It just won’t work. Carole will never fall for any of those silly stories about vampires or beriberi. And we can’t put Marie in any real danger.”

Something Lisa had just said gave Stevie an idea. “That’s it!” she said. “That’s a great idea, Lisa. A fall!”

“What?” Lisa had no idea what Stevie was talking about.

“You just said the word ‘fall,’ ” Stevie explained patiently. “That made me think of falling down, which made me think of falling out of the hayloft, which made me think of our sleepover. We can push Marie out of the hayloft during the sleepover.”

“What?” Lisa cried, horrified.

“Oh, we’ll have a net there to catch her, of course,” Stevie added quickly. “We can use that roll of netting that’s taking up space in the tack room. I’m sure Max won’t mind, especially if we don’t tell him until afterward.”

Lisa was shaking her head again. “Keep thinking, Stevie,” she said with a sigh.

“Well, I guess it couldn’t hurt to have a backup plan,” Stevie said, but her mind was working full speed ahead on the hayloft idea. She was pretty sure they would be able to hook the netting securely enough so that Marie would be in no danger of hurting herself. And a dramatic fall out of the loft would be sure to scare some sense into Carole. It would work. Stevie was sure of it.

“I
CAN

T BELIEVE
my English teacher,” Carole grumbled the following evening. She and Marie were getting ready to start their homework. Carole’s mood hadn’t improved much since the day before. If anything, it had gotten worse and worse as she watched Marie and Colonel Hanson talk and joke with each other all through dinner. They both seemed to have forgotten that Carole was still living in the same house with them. At breakfast that morning she’d had to ask for the milk three times before they heard her, because they were laughing so hard at some stupid joke Marie had just told about a dog and a canary. Carole herself hadn’t been able to follow it—Marie’s rock music had kept her up late again, and she was so exhausted she couldn’t think straight. Of course that did nothing to improve
Carole’s state of mind, not to mention her feelings toward Marie. When she did manage to get a word in edgewise, it was usually snide or sarcastic. She knew she was being grouchy and unpleasant, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself, and that made her feel even worse. Now, on top of all that, she had to answer a bunch of discussion questions on
Of Mice and Men
.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Colonel Hanson asked, a little distractedly. He and Marie were discussing World War II, the subject of Marie’s history assignment and one of Colonel Hanson’s favorite topics.

Carole glared at him. He didn’t notice, which made her feel even worse. “Never mind,” she said. She stomped out of the room and upstairs to her bedroom. When she arrived there, she realized that if she wanted to use the computer to do her homework she’d have to go back down to the living room. “Forget it,” she muttered. There was no way she wanted to be in the same room with her father and his newly adopted daughter.

She sat down at her desk, opened her notebook to a fresh page, and picked up a pencil. Chewing on the end, she tried to figure out what to write about. She had been distracted with her plans for Marie’s visit when she’d read
Of Mice and Men
, so it hadn’t made much of an impression on her—especially since nobody rides a horse anywhere in the book. The questions her teacher had given them didn’t even seem to make sense.

She took her copy of the book out of her backpack. Flipping through it aimlessly, she found her thoughts returning to the living room below. Normally she would have asked her father for help with her homework, but that was out of the question now. She was sure he wouldn’t be interested even if she did ask. He would much rather discuss World War II with Marie than help his own daughter with her English assignment.

Carole sighed and decided she couldn’t possibly concentrate anymore on an empty stomach. She had been in such a bad mood when she arrived home from school that she hadn’t even had an afternoon snack. Remembering that there had still been a few of Colonel Hanson’s delicious chocolate-chip cookies left over from the day before, she tossed aside her book and pencil and went down to the kitchen.

She poured herself a glass of milk, making a face as she heard the murmur of the lively conversation that was still going on in the other room. She glanced around the kitchen, but the tin of cookies was nowhere to be seen. She checked the oven, the cabinets, and everywhere else she could think of, but they were gone. All she could find was an old bag of store-bought butter cookies. Suddenly she realized where the missing cookies must be: Marie must have eaten them! Carole popped one of the butter cookies into her mouth and chewed angrily. “Ugh. Stale,” she muttered.

Gritting her teeth, she stomped out into the living room. Sure enough, the tin that had contained the cookies was sitting on the little table between Marie and Colonel Hanson. But the tin was now empty, except for a few crumbs. As Carole entered, Marie was just popping the last of the cookies into her mouth and washing it down with milk.

Meanwhile, Colonel Hanson was busy telling Marie about the role of the resistance movement within the Third Reich. She was nodding as he spoke, seemingly hanging on every word.

Carole’s hands clenched into fists as she watched Marie set down her glass of milk and jot down a note on the paper in front of her. It wasn’t fair, Carole thought. Her father was supposed to help her with
her
homework, not some visitor’s. And couldn’t they at least have saved her one measly cookie?

She cleared her throat loudly. Colonel Hanson and Marie looked up. “Oh, hello, sweetheart,” Colonel Hanson said. “Is your homework all done?”

“No,” Carole said through clenched teeth. “I haven’t even started it yet. I came down to get some cookies, but I see that
somebody
has already eaten them all. I guess that
somebody
never stopped to think that I might like a snack, too. But then, that
somebody
never stops to think at all from what I can tell. She just cracks some stupid joke and does whatever she feels like doing.”

Marie’s face had been turning redder and redder throughout Carole’s speech. Suddenly she burst into tears and ran out of the room. Carole heard the other girl’s footsteps thumping up the stairs, and then the sound of a door slamming.

Colonel Hanson stood up, his normally jovial face dark with anger. “Just what was that all about, young lady?” he demanded, his hands on his hips. Before Carole could answer, he held up one hand. “No, I don’t want to hear. Whatever your problem is, there’s no excuse for taking it out on Marie the way you just did.”

“But, Dad, she—” Carole began.

“She nothing,” Colonel Hanson interrupted her. “She has done nothing but be a charming, accommodating guest since she arrived on Tuesday. You, on the other hand, have been grouchier and ruder than I’ve ever seen you. I’m surprised Marie has been able to put up with you this long.”

Carole folded her arms across her chest, willing herself not to cry. “Fine. Take her side. As usual.”

Colonel Hanson had opened his mouth to say something else, but he closed it again at her words. Then he said, “Her side? Carole, I’m not taking anybody’s side here. I’m just pointing out—”

“You’re just pointing out everything that’s wrong with me and everything that’s wonderful about her,” Carole said, the words coming in a rush. “I bet you wish Marie
were your daughter and that I was the one going home after a couple of weeks.”

Colonel Hanson stared at her for a moment. Carole didn’t meet his gaze, but instead kept her eyes trained on the ground.

“Is that really what you think?” Colonel Hanson said at last.

Carole shrugged. “Well, what else would I think, after the way you’ve been swooning over Marie ever since she got here, and ignoring me.”

“Carole, are you telling me that you’re jealous of the way I’ve been treating Marie?” Colonel Hanson asked.

Carole just shrugged again.

“You know as well as I do,” he went on, “that Marie has been through some tough times lately. And if anyone could understand what she’s going through, I thought it would be you. Now, it’s obvious that you’re upset, and you know I don’t like to see that. But this time I think you’re just going to have to think things through on your own—calmly and rationally. When you do, I think you’ll see how ridiculous you’re being, and how poorly you’ve been treating Marie.”

Carole frowned even harder. Part of her mind knew that what her father was saying made sense. But a much louder and angrier part couldn’t help thinking that he didn’t understand what she was feeling at all. If he did, he would be comforting her, not scolding her.

But she couldn’t tell him that, not right now. Not when he was still taking Marie’s side. “Fine,” she said at last in a tight, cold voice.

Colonel Hanson sighed and nodded. “All right, then,” he said. “I’d suggest you go up to your room and stay there. And, Carole, please think about what I’ve said.” With that he turned away from her.

BOOK: Riding Lesson
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